During the 2004 Lausanne Conference in Pattaya, Thailand, the study group meeting to discuss holistic mission turned their attention to the AIDS pandemic as the most urgent of world concerns needing the attention of the Church. The group examined eleven issues that overlap and interconnect with the global AIDS pandemic. What was most compelling was that AIDS was determined by this group of seasoned missions professionals to be the greatest challenge of our time to world evangelization.
Why is AIDS Such a Global Challenge to the Spread of the Gospel?
Certainly there are many complex global issues that challenge the Church. But most of these issues are either aggravated by global AIDS (such as poverty, lack of education and child vulnerability) or exacerbate AIDS (such as poor healthcare, injustice and unsafe cultural practices). AIDS is intricately interwoven into the troubled fabric of our world, physically, socially and spiritually. Therefore, the AIDS pandemic is uniquely challenging to both developmental issues and world evangelization. The following are three reasons AIDS is the greatest challenge to world evangelization:
1. AIDS challenges the applicability of the Church. AIDS is affecting many nations that have a strong Church presence. This as compared to 10/40 window countries or unreached nations where prevalence rates, although rising, are still negligible. What does this tell us about the influence of the Church? The Church is to be “salt” and “light” in the world (Matthew 5:13-14) and is to display the “manifold wisdom of God” to the nations (Ephesians 3:10). However, AIDS also highlights apparent weaknesses in our ecclesiology.
2. AIDS challenges our discipleship methodology. AIDS affects the lives of both nominal and devout Christians around the world. Carnality plagues the body of Christ. What does this tell us about our teaching practices? Jesus gave us a command to teach his followers to “obey everything” (Matthew 28:20). He had commanded that we be made new in him (2 Corinthians 5:17). However, AIDS spotlights disconcerting deficiencies in our discipleship.
3. AIDS challenges the relevancy of the gospel. AIDS should compel us to revisit and rethink the message that we share with the world. The gospel is the power of salvation; however, if people are continuing in “unrighteousness” after conversion, what does this tell us about the relevancy of our message? The gospel must be declared (Matthew 24:14) throughout the world, but demonstration is required to make it relevant (2 Corinthians 9:12-14), especially to the AIDS victim who has been stigmatized and marginalized.
If the Church is to successfully confront the challenge of AIDS to world evangelization, a new paradigm, indeed, a new wineskin, is needed. This new wineskin will be built on a better ecclesiological model, a more effective discipleship methodology and a more relevant gospel. Perhaps the following can help inform our thinking:
What would a better church model look like? This is found in Acts 2:42-47. The early Church was founded on community and built on teaching, communion, fellowship and prayer. The early Church embraced a lifestyle of selflessness and self-sacrifice that produced a public witness where they enjoyed the “favor of all people.” What needs to change in our ecclesiological model to implement the better church model? To begin, the vast majority of churches must still deal with the reality of AIDS by offering love and compassion to those who are suffering. Our global witness requires it.
What would a more effective discipleship model look like? To start, we need a biblical worldview. A recent study found that only fifty percent of pastors (and more alarmingly, only nine percent of “born-again” Christians) hold a biblical worldview.1 Consider Titus 2:12-14 as an example of a biblical worldview. It teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. It teaches us to be eager to do what is good. What needs to change in our discipleship model to confront AIDS? Unquestionably, training a biblical worldview is necessary for leaders and laity alike.
What would a relevant gospel message look like? The Apostle Paul obviously faced this same question in his ministry. His answer was contextualization (1 Corinthians 9:15-23). Paul made no pretense about the gospel; however, he did meet people where they were at. But do we share a gospel that is programmed, planned and perhaps somewhat pretentious? AIDS requires that we rethink the gospel and become “weak” to the “weak.” This means our good news is uniquely developed, in word and deed, for those living under the burden of AIDS.
Even with, and in spite, of our blemishes and wrinkles, the Church remains the best line of defense against the continuing spread of AIDS today. There are at least four pertinent rationales why the Church is the only global agency that can address this pandemic. We must allow these rationales to inform our actions and our prayer regarding AIDS.
Mandate for an unconditional compassionate response to care for those whom Christ called “the least of these.” Others may respond out of charity, concern for human need or commission to an assigned task. These are all fine reasons. Only a Christian, however, is required to respond out of obedience to Christ’s command to “love thy neighbor.”
Method of wholeness necessary to address the root causes. One of the fiercest battles raging over the pandemic illustrates the opposing worldviews of those responding to AIDS. The unbiblical worldview believes that behavior cannot be changed, and therefore people are treated in a manner that upholds this perception. The Christian worldview understands the sinful nature of man, but believes that through a relationship with Jesus Christ, every life can be transformed for good.
Means to effectively confront the pandemic to the ends of the earth. The Church’s reach is expressed through the power of prayer and through our global presence. The Church’s global reach is unequaled, and because we have a command to “go into all the world,” our reach continues to grow. Therefore, church planting is also a vital response to AIDS.
Message of transformation through the gospel of Jesus Christ to reverse and eradicate AIDS and bring hope in the face of such widespread despair. The gospel is the power unto salvation. It is also the power for transformation of lives and communities. It is an unmatched power to bring about the end of AIDS.
The holistic mission study group offered this in conclusion: “If the evangelical Church cares for the sick and the dying, comforts the orphan and widow, shares its message of redemption and transformation, disciples its members and works for justice, then the worth and truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ will shine like a light on the hill and the nations will stream towards it.” To this we also add what E.M. Bounds said: “God shapes the world by prayer. The more praying there is in the world, the better the world will be, [and] the mightier the forces against evil.”